Last Saturday was Field Day for North American amateur radio, an annual ‘open house’ where 40k ham radio operators get out the radio equipment to make contacts and demonstrate to others how it’s done. We’ve helped out the local group PCAUXCOM the last few years by having a project to build or putting on an education session at their location.
We also showed off a prototype satellite tracker that Ian has been designing that was made with 3D printed parts from the makerspace. While it’s still a work-in-progress, the prototype uses data from a satellite tracking app to move a mounted antenna to follow the satellite as it passes the sky overhead. There wasn’t an ISS pass but Ian was able to show how it tracked another satellite during the presentation. The major components were designed in Tinkercad, the same program we use in our Intro to 3D Printing class, and the tracking hardware is moved by software running on a Pi Pico!
This last week I got to do something different during “bring your kid to work day” – provide additional STEM activities for the kids that came to MESH Systems in Carmel, Indiana. The idea came about when a parent in Greencastle, who often brings his child to Castlemakers, wasn’t sure if there would be enough to keep his son interested all day. Since his son really enjoys stopping by the makerspace, and he knew we’ve done many youth programs in the area, he asked if we could do something at his office. After some discussions with their HR person, we were able to put together an afternoon STEM session at Mesh.
There was also interest in 3D printing, so we started with a quick overview of the printing process. After starting our 3D printer making some parts and explaining how some of the 3D printed parts we brought were made, we had them design their own part to be printed using Tinkercad. The later afternoon kids were more interested in design, so we focused in on using Tinkercad to create objects and how it differed from other 3D design programs. Those that were left had access to other 3D printers, so we finished up on how to export and print their designs.
Thanks to Mesh Systems for giving us the opportunity to teach some of their kids about single board computing and 3D printing design!
This summer we decided to make some changes to the layout at Castlemakers. Perhaps the most visible was moving our Shapeoko XXL from downstairs into the middle room on the main level. With all the parts & equipment donations that we also received this summer, it’s felt like a big project – which it has been. But we’re beginning to reap some of the rewards of the move with better equipment utilization, even if we’re still not done yet.
This summer also brought in a large amount of unusual equipment, from electronics, laptops, & printers to a rather large Nd:YAG laser! We’ve got plenty of tear-down material for inquisitive minds right now.
But the most incredible gift was from Travis & Weiwei Chao, who formerly had an eBay store that sold 3D printer, CNC, & electronic parts. When they decided to sell their house & then close their eBay store, they gave what was left to Castlemakers! We now have lot of extra components at the makerspace & plan to use the parts in future classes at Castlemakers. Stop during our Open Shop times if you’d like to see the new things we got or just have an urge to take something apart to see what’s inside…
There’s a lot of similarity between amateur radio (or ham radio) and ‘makers’ – in fact many people are involved in both. With the electronics workbench area that we added to the makerspace, there has been even more interest in amateur radio. Several months ago, we put a 2m/70cm member-donated antenna on the roof, then started looking for a transmitter/ receiver & more projects next.
A recent article(p30) on building a low power Weak Signal Propagation Reporter (WSPR) radio beacon using an Arduino had us wanting to make one. We have experience with single board computers & most of the parts at the makerspace already – so why not make one! But before I could get mine finished another member, who recently got his amateur radio license, redesigned the project using Raspberry Pi Zero and got his running in Crawfordsville!
Transmitting on less power than many wifi routers (100mW in this case), he’s had confirmation of his signal on the 20m frequency band in Australia, Denmark, off the coast of Africa, and even an Antartica research station! Stop by the makerspace – we’re glad to show off what we’re doing.
Last weekend we had our advanced micro:bit class that was cancelled last year due to Covid. Ian Girvan, one of our members, taught the class & everyone there learned a thing or two about the more advanced features of this IoT like device. The class was taught using v1.6 of the micro:bit, v2’s released last November are still almost impossible to find; versions are similar enough it doesn’t make a real difference.
Participants learned how to use a breakout board to connect lights, sound, & control a DC motor with a micro:bit. They even got the chance to use a light sensor & variable resistor as input to control a LED.
Our next class, coming up on May 29th, will be a ‘learning to solder’ class where folks make a little jitterbug robot that starts moving when the light sensor detects darkness. We’ll soon be adding a lot more light/solar projects and classes with some upcoming makerspace additions in the next few months.
Now we’re able to have classes at the Makerspace again, last Saturday there was a free ‘Intro to micro:bit’ class for anyone interested. It went well, with several attendees liking it so much they signed up on the spot for our next micro:bit class which will cover the device in even more detail.
This coming Saturday, May1st at 1 pm, we’ll cover using external devices with a micro:bit, including hooking up light strings, switches, and even a motor to the single board computer given to all 6th graders in Putnam County. This will be an all ages class however, the simple and powerful IoT like device can be programmed by anyone from 8 to 80. We’ll have everything you need for the hands-on class where you’ll learn to control a string of neopixel lights and no previous experience is needed. Learn more about it on our classes webpage.
Pointing out the new ping pong ball lamp in the Castlemakers window on Franklin Street is a natural follow-up after writing last month about the micro:bit in the window. It’s a great fun, low cost project built by one of our member with items found at the makerspace, except for the ping pong balls.
Recently several of us started experimenting with ESP32’s, a ‘system on a chip’ device that’s less than $10. I’m working on a squirrel proof bird feeder using an ESP32 with a camera for squirrel recognition, more on that later. This project is built however with an ESP8266 module, predecessor of the ESP32, which cost even less. The ESP8266 modules, bought some time ago for $4, are still quite capable having both wifi and a control channel built in. Ian, who’s known to build things for the heck of it, turned an ESP8266, a bit of leftover led strip lights, some 3D printing, ping pong balls and some glue into a flashy user controlled lamp!
There was mathematics involved in figuring out the right way to spiral the LED strip up the side for tight ping pong ball spacing, which depends on the diameter of the 3D printed cylinder. What’s also impressive is the built in web server. If you’re at the makerspace and logged into our network, type http://pingpong1.local to change the lamp pattern. Pretty darn impressive for a $4 circuit board!
We’re thinking about creating a class to help folks build these. If you’re interested stop by to let us know, post on this blog or send us an email.
It’s exciting to be able to offer classes again, even though with a reduced size and constraints due to Covid. Introduction to 3D Printing will be offered on January 23rd at 1 pm and our popular Introduction to Laser Cutting/Engraving on February 20th. We’re hoping there’s also interest in some micro:bit classes, refer to our classes page for more information.
We’ve continued to experiment, a lot, with the micro:bit since giving them away to youth in the fall of 2019. The micro:bit capability is still impressive for a device that size. In the window of our Franklin Street location you can see several micro:bit projects, including some that have been written about before.
One of the more mysterious window projects uses the micro:bit’s internal bluetooth radio. There’s been a micro:bit for some time that sends scrolling text and can control a string of lights and a rather loud alarm bell if the right text is sent wirelessly from another micro:bit to the window unit.
Hint: the words to send are obvious, it’s easy to program in MakeCode, and use Radio Set Group 1. It even works from outside! I’ll link later to some more detailed additional help.
Thanks to a generous gift from the Walmart Foundation and our local Walmart Distribution Center, we’ve been able to build on our previous electronics experience and add to our capabilities. In September we received a grant to expand our electronics and single board computer/IOT equipment (like the micro:bit) at Castlemakers.
In the back of the makerspace we’ve added a new electronics workbench area plus will soon be adding more soldering equipment to teach people about electronic components, circuits, and their repair. For several years now we’ve taught a learning to solder course for youth and adults, plus often had youth programs where they can experiment with electronic devices. Not all of the equipment is in yet, but we can already now work with small circuit components and perform troubleshooting.
Part of our mission is encouraging new skills in the community through projects and hands-on classes. Are you or a group interested in learning more about electronics? Contact us, perhaps we can work something out for you or your group here at Castlemakers!
We’ve still had projects at Castlemakers this summer, even with the Covid shutdown hampering our hands-on education efforts. One that I’m excited/impressed with is a high school student built project that includes programming, electronics, 3D printing and using a laser cutter – all made with items at the Makerspace!
Ever since we gave every 6th grader in Putnam County a micro:bit last year, we’ve wanted to do more micro:bit projects to help youth and adults see the power of microprocessors and IoT devices. And to get a chance to expose and use some of the some different fabrication tools often found in a makerspace. This summer Hunter Miller made a really interesting project, an edge lit sign controlled by a micro:bit. It looks a bit like an emergency exit sign with a disco like effect and instead our logo on it.
The design and case was modified from something created at the Cambridge UK makerspace, who was looking to create something to experience the different makerspace tools. We used our 50W CO2 laser to cut and etch an insert for a 3D printed case that with led lighting on the edge makes our logo stand out. Hunter, who was looking for something else to do this summer, then cut a section of a 2m LED strip and after some soldering connected the wires directly to a micro:bit. Then he wrote a micro:bit program using MakeCode that makes the LED strip change color and intensity.
It’s on display right now in our front window on Franklin St. Stop by and take a look or come in and we’ll show you how it works – the different lighting modes may have you dancing!